VARIOUS ARTISTS - People And Songs Of The Sea

VARIOUS ARTISTS - People And Songs Of The Sea
Greentrax CDTRAX338

Shona McMillan has put together a superb 3-year project to commemorate and celebrate the heritage of the fishing communities of East Lothian and beyond. The project evolved from conversations with her mother Jean Thorburn, who died before it came to maturity, and Shona dedicates it to her. This CD supports an exhibition which can be seen in many venues around the Firth of Forth during 2009..

Most of the 21 tracks on the 73-minute album are drawn from Greentrax’s catalogue. How fitting it is that Ian Green and company should be closely involved, since they are based in Cockenzie. Shona herself is a Fisherrow lass. Other local communities featured are Musselburgh, Prestonpans, Port Seton, Cove and Aberlady. Further away, the fishing links with Shetland, the Hebrides, and Ireland are remembered.

There is sadness in the story. Many songs deal with the dangers faced by the fishermen – for instance, Cilla Fishers’s Eyemouth Disaster and The Cast’s Song for Cove both tell of the storm which devastated the east coast in 1881. Other songs, like those of Prestonpans man Davey Steele’s Farewell Tae The Haven and Wha’ll Dreg A Buckie, and Archie Fisher’s The Final Trawl, deal with the steep decline in the industry as a result of overfishing.  But there are many positives. The hard-working, independent womenfolk are celebrated in songs like Fisherrow and Come All Ye Fisher Lassies (both sung by Shona and specially recorded for the album), and The Fisherman’s Wife sung by Janet Russell and Christine Kydd.  The resilience and warmth of these communities is captured in the hymn Will Your Anchor Hold, sung by the Fisher Folk Choir. For this standout track, Shona gathered together around a hundred local people in the Old Parish Church of Cockenzie and Port Seton. The song was sung under the direction of William Watt (of Harbour Lights) and recorded by Ian McCalman.

This is a coming together of amateurs and professionals to create a compilation which is informative and enjoyable, backed up by excellent liner notes. It has been led by a local person involving her local community, and has been supported by a local record company. Shona, and all those involved, deserve our congratulations.  The pulse of folk music remains strong when albums like this are produced.
Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 84 of The Living Tradition magazine.